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Community Planning for Solar Toolkit

Successfully combatting climate change will require significant build-out of solar energy across Massachusetts and around the country over the coming decades.  Proactive and inclusive community planning for the siting and financing of solar photovoltaics (PV) can help to facilitate solar PV development in line with community preferences, while balancing other community priorities and maximizing local benefits.  Good planning can also reduce time commitments for municipal officials involved in the solar permitting process, minimize conflicts among stakeholders, and reduce solar development costs.

CEE and its partners have designed the Community Planning for Solar Toolkit to help municipalities in Massachusetts and throughout the Northeast proactively plan for solar PV development in their communities.

The Toolkit allows community residents and officials to take a proactive approach to solar development by providing communities with the resources that can help them to:

  • Assess their community's unique resources, solar development options, goals, and preferences,
  • Identify and prioritize locations in the community for solar development
  • Evaluate various solar financing options and pursue financing that best fits community goals
  • Develop a Community Solar Action Plan with clear steps for community outreach and education, engaging with potential solar developers and financiers, and aligning municipal bylaws related to solar development with community preferences

Toolkit Components

The Community Planning for Solar Toolkit is designed to walk your community through a 6-step solar planning process.  Follow the links below for guides, fact sheets, templates, and examples designed to provide detailed guidance every step of the way.  Feel free to browse, download, and utilize the documents according to your needs; however, when undertaking a comprehensive solar planning process, we recommend following the steps in order.

Step 1:  Gather your planning team and set goals

Step 2:  Conduct a solar resource and infrastructure assessment

Step 3:  Evaluate solar financing and ownership options

Step 4:  Assess community preferences regarding solar development and financing

Step 5:  Develop a Community Solar Action Plan

Step 6:  Keep your Community Solar Action Plan current

Note that the Toolkit was designed with rural communities in mind, but many of the tools are applicable to suburban or urban settings.

Support and Feedback

Beginning June 2022, we will be recruiting 5-10 Massachusetts municipalities to participate in the Community Planning for Solar process with planning support provided by advanced UMass undergraduate students working closely with CEE staff.  If you think your town might be interested in participating, contact Zara Dowling (zdowling@umass.edu) for more information.

For more general feedback regarding the Toolkit or questions regarding specific tools or resources, contact CEE at energyextension@umass.edu.

Partners & Funding

Development of this Toolkit was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Solar Energy Innovation Network cohort program for Solar in Rural Communities, as part of a multi-stakeholder team project to develop a community-informed proactive solar siting and financing model.  

The Community Planning for Solar project team included UMass Clean Energy Extension (CEE), the UMass Department of Environmental Conservation, Colby College Department of Environmental Studies, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC), the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG), the Western Massachusetts Community Choice Energy Task Force, UMassFive College Credit Union, Northeast Solar, PV Squared, Co-op Power, and the Massachusetts towns of Blandford, Wendell and Westhampton.  

If you’d like to cite this Toolkit, the following format is recommended: UMass Clean Energy Extension.  Community Planning for Solar Toolkit.  March 2022. www.ag.umass.edu/solarplanning